ECHR Convicts Turkey’s “Disproportionate Punishment”

MESOP 5.3.2014 – The European Court of Human Rights found a Turkish court’s order for damages on writer Dilipak disproportionate when he wrote “I am not renouncing my right to deceased retired general Erkaya”.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Abdurrahman Dilipak and Hasan Karakaya had not been given the opportunity to participate in the civil proceedings against them or to defend their interests in the Erkaya case where they were accused of offensive speech. In the verdict issued today, the court found Turkey guilty of violating right to a fair hearing and freedom of expression. The Court held that the question of just satisfaction in respect of Dilipak was not ready for decision and reserved it. It invited the Government and the applicant to submit observations on this question and, in particular, to inform it of any agreement they might reach.

“A chilling effect on all journalists”

The 7 member court panel, including Işık Karakaş from Turkey, observed that the damages awarded against Dilipak and Mr Karakaya represented a particularly heavy burden because the award had led to the seizure of Dilipak’s home with a view to its sale by auction. “The Court took the view that it was a sanction that was likely to have a chilling effect not only on Dilipak and Mr Karakaya but on all journalists,” the verdict said.

Lastly, the Court observed that the proceedings had not been fair and adversarial because they had taken place without the applicants’ participation. “The impugned interference not being proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued, the Court found that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention,” it continued.  In June 2000, in connection with the funeral of Admiral Güven Erkaya, former Commander-in-Chief of the Navy and member of the National Security Council, Karakaya published an article in which he criticized the deceased on account of the role he had played in the political process triggered by a meeting of the Council in February 1997 – a process described by some observers as a “postmodern coup d’état”.

In the same month, Dilipak also published in the same paper an article criticizing the action of Admiral Erkaya.

Convicted in absentia, journalist applied to ECHR – In September 2000 the deceased’s family brought civil proceedings to obtain damages from the two journalists. However, the postal services were not able to serve either the statement of claim or the writ of summons on them.

On 21 January 2003 the court delivered a judgment in the absence of the defendants, who had never appeared at the hearings. They were ordered jointly to pay 30,000 Turkish lira plus default interest for non-pecuniary damage.  In June 2003 the deceased’s family brought enforcement proceedings. Orders to pay were issued and sent to the applicants, both of whom received them this time directly at their respective home addresses. Dilipak and Karakaya appealed on points of law against the judgment of 21 January 2003, indicating that they had only become aware of it when they received the orders to pay. Their appeals were dismissed. The enforcement proceedings, which led to the seizure of Dilipak’s house with a view to its sale by auction, are still pending. The amount owed by the two journalists totals over 160,000 Turkish lira. Relying on Articles 6 (right to a fair hearing) and 10 (freedom of expression), the applicants complained of a violation of their right to a court and a breach of their right to freedom of expression.